main: March 2008 Archives

Here's a new one for the Bloglines queue: The G Spot is run by Kathy G., "who identifies herself as "a shrill feminist, bleeding heart liberal, hardcore policy wonk, political junkie, ardent cinephile, and lover of 19th century novels. She lives in Chicago with her husband and two loveable mutts, where she is attempting, amidst numerous diverting distractions, to complete a Ph.D. in the social sciences."

She's a friend of the family -- and I think I turned her on to George Gissing, or at least to New Grub Street (a novel of overdetermined interest to us both).

Somebody at The Nation ought to keep an eye on this blog and figure out a way to get Kathy on board there....

March 31, 2008 5:55 AM | | Comments (2)
About the NBCC campaign last spring, Maud Newton says, "The assumption was that print reviews by professionals were, prima facie, superior to any other kind of book discussion, and that their demise signaled the impending doom of book culture."

Were people really saying that? Maybe they were and I wasn't paying attention, or have forgotten in the meantime. And Maud is in New York, which is a better place for hearing such conversations than DC, probably. But in any case, my recollection is different.
March 28, 2008 4:57 PM | | Comments (2)

Other than knowing that the band had just two members, I had very little sense of The Spinanes when their album Manos came out in the early 1990s. It immediately became a favorite. But after a span of years, and thanks to the magic of Web 2.0, I have learned that Rebecca Gates, the singer/guitarist, is...luminous:

Maybe especially so here, in a song seemingly better mixed for the video than it is on the album:

Okay, one more cut, this time from Manos:

There does not seem to be very much of substance about the Spinanes to read online, apart from this interview with Goetz and a handful of blogposts by people with fond memories of the band.

March 28, 2008 6:39 AM | | Comments (2)
Originally published in a magazine and included in a collection of his short stories from 1910, "Crapy Cornelia" should be pronounced, I'd guess, with the first syllable of the first word sounding like "crepe."

But still.

Via the Valve

March 27, 2008 3:57 PM | | Comments (4) watch this video and think, "I wonder what Donna Haraway would say?"

(Hat tip to Steven Hart)

March 26, 2008 4:36 PM | | Comments (2)
The freestanding Sunday newspaper supplement devoted to book reviews is now -- with a very few exceptions -- a thing of the past. When a paper does devote a page or two to literary coverage, it tends these days to be folded into the "arts and entertainment" or "lifestyle" sections. (After all, books do furnish a room.)

But my dim memory of the Dallas press from a quarter century ago (when there were, strange to say, two competing newspapers in one midsized city) is that book reviews appeared in the weekend sections devoted to editorials, punditry, think pieces, etc.

That is still the case with The Boston Globe, where book coverage appears in the back of the Ideas section. Likewise now with The L.A. Times.

A colleague has written to ask whether other American papers have tried this -- attaching their book reviews to the Opinion or Outlook sections, or whatever the Big Concept pages are called, locally. If so, how did the move go? How did readers react?

Off the top of my head, I couldn't think of any. But it seemed like a query best addressed by the NBCC membership -- geographically farflung and deeply informed as, of course, you all are.  [Likewise with Quick Students.-sm]


March 26, 2008 3:21 PM | | Comments (4)
I do not IM. This is not a matter of principle, unless feeling like I already spend too much time staring at the computer screen is a principle. It's challenge enough to keep the attention span from splintering as it is. Evidently it is possible for me to IM, via my Gmail account; but I never look at the "chat" thing there, so on the one occasion that anyone did try to reach me that way, it was maybe two months before I found out about it -- and then, only via another form of communication. By 2010, this will count as extreme rudeness.

A friend writes (by email) to announce the creation of a new blog consisting entirely of IM transcripts. "Our intention is to have a fresh conversation up every weekday," writes this person, "and we already have about three weeks of material scheduled in advance. If you like it, I'd be very happy if you would promote it by whatever means you deem appropriate -- but just don't mention my name, because I'm trying to make it so that it doesn't come up on a Google search for me."

It is called A Prolific Squalor. That sounds as if it ought to be the title of a short story by Donald Barthelme. I don't know if that is deliberate. But having read the blog, the overtone does seem appropriate.
March 26, 2008 10:38 AM | | Comments (0)
The Litblog Coop came on the scene in the spring of 2005 as a coordinated effort to promote awareness of -- as its website put it -- "the best of contemporary fiction, authors and presses ... struggling to be noticed in a flooded marketplace." My impression at the time was that it amounted to
a kind of laboratory experiment in literary sociology. Can a group of people frustrated with prevailing trends in the publishing industry (which is constantly on the lookout for the next Da Vinci Code, as if one weren't enough) and with mainstream media (where reviewing space shrinks constantly) win recognition for a worthy, but otherwise potentially overlooked, piece of fiction?
That from the headnote to an interview with one of the founding Litblog Coopers, Dan Green, about the thinking and process behind the effort.

After a three-year run, the Coop is shutting down, according to an announcement by Green, "mainly because so many of its members have become so preoccupied with their own blogs, as well as other literary endeavors that in some cases their blogs helped to make possible, that they could not devote the kind of time and attention required to keep a loosely-affiliated group like the LBC functioning adequately."
March 24, 2008 6:13 AM | | Comments (0)

If Samuel Beckett produced The Charlie Rose Show....

Actually more Ionesco, I think, than Beckett. But the "staging" here does somewhat recall "Ohio Impromptu."

March 23, 2008 7:50 AM | | Comments (3)
Evidently this is supposed to be devastatingly witty. Alas, it leaves at least one reader completely undevastated. I guessed that the "article" was machine- generated somewhere around the middle of the first sentence, and was certain of it by the end of the second.

Sorry to have to break the news, but just because some academics refer to unfamiliar ideas or thinkers -- or use butt-ugly jargon to write gelatinous sentences -- it does not then follow that all of their work is necessarily a hodgepodge of random terms.

It is very popular to believe otherwise, of course. Not knowing anything about cultural theory is, in many cases, a point of great pride to the not-knower. The cost of being even a pluperfect ignoramus in such matters is minimal. Most of the time, in fact, the cost is nonexistent.

A certain impatience with contemporary litcritspeak is not (let's say) a thing kept well-hidden throughout the course of my career. But that impatience has been earned. I sit through plenty of conferences waiting to hear something that is not just triteness gussied up in polysyllables. This is a task I approach with all the enthusiasm of Job at discovering a new set of boils.

And yet there are indeed differences, I have discovered, not just between non-crap and crap, but between total crap and randomly generated strings of words. Strange to think this, but it is so. 
March 22, 2008 5:40 PM | | Comments (3)

Friend and erstwhile colleague David Glenn passes along this video re-setting one of the "eight model works" from the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution to music -- this time, "Rebel Girl" by Bikini Kill:

Posted (with thanks to David) in honor of hearing from my friend Susan Svatek for the first time in about twenty years. It's been a pretty great week.

March 22, 2008 11:39 AM | | Comments (1)

I am going to be offline for the rest of the week. No comments will be
approved until Saturday, and I probably won't be able to respond to
email until sometime after that, even. (Joining the NBCC Board means never having an empty inbox.)

March 17, 2008 6:50 PM | | Comments (0)

"... he, who has so little knowledge of human nature, as to seek happiness by changing any thing, but his own dispositions, will waste his life in fruitless efforts, and multiply the griefs which he purposes to remove."

-- Samuel Johnson, The Rambler (1750)



March 16, 2008 11:11 AM | | Comments (2)

The final episode of The Wire (which I haven't seen yet) is called "-30-." Christopher Gabel at Grid Effect writes:

That title is just a morass of punctuation. It's how I imagine Clark Kent wrote all his columns for the paper he worked at. Not merely written prose, but prose so complex that only people who could fly are able to decrypt it.

Well, no. It's not "just a morass of punctuation." Back in the old days, a reporter would type "-30-" after the last paragraph of an article to indicate that it had reached its close -- that there was no more copy forthcoming. It used to be the case, too, that the farewell piece by a columnist would be called a "-30-" column. Very appropriate as a title, in this case.

This is all ancient history now, and I stopped using it with manuscripts a while back when it became clear that scarcely anyone had any idea why the "-30-" was there.

By contrast, TK fills a lasting need and will live forever.

UPDATE: My friend Emily goes meta-TK. Her additions to the Wikipedia entry make perfect sense, and the appoints apply just as much or more to newspaperdom or online writing.

UPDATE TO THE UPDATE: That would be Martin Schneider, rather, not Emily. Sorry about that.

March 15, 2008 10:11 PM | | Comments (5)

As noted by Ralph Luker at Cliopatria, I have a piece in The New York Times Book Review. After a dozen times or so, you get to be blasé about this. And so blasé about it I shall be -- although appearing in the Times wins valuable points with my mother-in-law, always a good thing.

But this time they have added a short profile of the reviewer, including a drawing. It is based on a photo. Still, I don't think the glasses and beard are quite that big in real life.

The piece is gratifying mainly because it mentions Phyllis and Julius Jacobson. Every so often some event or book will make me miss them so much it hurts, since we'll never get to hash it out. (Julie died five years ago; Phyllis had a very bad stroke in 2000 and now lives in a nursing home in Brooklyn; the last time we went to see her, there was a brief period of recognition but she faded fast.) A really fine short biographical account of Julius was written by Barry Finger for the socialist journal New Politics, which P&J founded.

As I told the Times in part of the interview they didn't use: the rumor that anti-totalitarian leftists like P&J all ended up as neoconservatives is one of the great slanders of contemporary American politics.

March 15, 2008 8:57 AM | | Comments (5)

...seems like a good time for the MC5:

The announcement at the end sure comes out of left field.

March 14, 2008 4:41 PM | | Comments (1)

Tim Hall explains it all:

I have my own theories about why the Republican party is experiencing a kind of colony collapse disorder these days. Part of it is simple Hate Fatigue-too many goddamn demagogues spouting too much ignorance and hatred on talk radio and cable news, manipulating people so much that when times get tough and serious thought and debate are needed a lot of people get disgusted and/or confused and walk away. Another part is the authoritarian bubble-just like in real estate or tech stocks, politics has its own speculators and profiteers who automatically rush to whichever side is in power and don the garments, spout the arguments, and try to position themselves for a piece of the pie-which is, more often than not, merely symbolic. When the bubble bursts they just move on and find a new power source to suck off of. That's why roughly 15% of all sitting Republicans are either retiring early or not seeking reelection (at least, among those who have not already been indicted). It's not about politics; it's about perceptions of power, who wields it, who is gaining and who is losing it. When you take those speculators out of politics you're going to lose a lot of people. And if the Democrats keep gaining in power, a lot of those same people are going to be switching sides, and will ultimately destabilize and screw up the left as well. Hopefully that won't happen for a couple of decades, at least, but it WILL happen.

The problem with this model, as I see it, is that it leaves out of the picture the existence of a very efficient system for making people stupid and keeping them that way.

And this apparatus seems to be able to pay for itself while creating lots of raw material for the politics of fear and resentment.

In which case, we're talking perpetual motion machine, here, rather than market bubble. It might slow down every so often, but I bet it'll get fixed. (Not that I don't hope Hall is completely right, and that I am off base.)

March 12, 2008 11:08 AM | | Comments (5)

No date given on this clip from a BBC documentary about the architect Philip Johnson. But Susan Sontag looks here like she did in photos from the mid-1960s through the early 1970s at latest. Her voice-over is pretty funny, and I'd like to think that is deliberate.

March 11, 2008 12:15 PM | | Comments (1)

Over the weekend, The Guardian presented a list of "The world's 50 most powerful blogs" -- one of which, coming in at number 33, does sound rather familiar:

With a title pulled from Immanuel Kant's famous statement that 'out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made', it's an amalgam of academic and political writing that has muscled its way into the epicentre of intelligent discussion since its conception in 2003. Formed as an internet supergroup, pulling several popular intellectual blogs together, Crooked Timber now has 16 members - largely academics - across the US, Europe, Australia and Asia. The site has built itself a reputation as something of an intellectual powerhouse; a sort of global philosophical thinktank conducted via blog.

We must try to remember to use our powers only for good. I do take some pride in being among the non-academics in the crew.

March 10, 2008 8:50 PM | | Comments (2)

My understanding is that George Romero will be doing another Living Dead film, in which case I would like to suggest that he consider casting Slavon Zizek as a cannibalistic zombie.


Meanwhile, on a seemingly unrelated note, Adam Kotsko proves something: It is not difficult to meet Zizek. What is difficult is not meeting him.

But maybe not so unrelated, after all? An inescapable cannibalistic zombie would be particularly terrifying.

March 10, 2008 12:12 PM | | Comments (1)

Today was the beginning of two days of National Book Critics Circle meetings in New York -- with a solid morning and early afternoon of activity among the membership, followed by the secret Conclave of Twenty-Four to vote for the winners of the book awards, and culminating in announcement of the results at the public ceremony, which Lizzie Skurnick live-blogged.

Here are the results:

Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing: Sam Anderson

Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award: Emilie Buchwald, founder of Milkweed Editions

Criticism: Alex Ross, The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Poetry: Mary Jo Bang, Elegy (Graywolf Press)

Biography: Tim Jeal, Stanley: The Impossible Life of Africa's Greatest Explorer (Yale University Press)

Nonfiction: Harriet Washington, Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present (Doubleday)

Autobiography: Edwidge Danticat, Brother, I'm Dying (Knopf)

Fiction: Junot Díaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Riverhead Books)

Tomorrow, I'll officially become a member of the Board of Directors and be taught the secret handshake and whatnot. Among other things, that means signing up for at least a couple of committees that will decide the finalists in various categories for next year's awards.

We also have to elect a new president, since John Freeman's term has reached its end and he won't even be on the board. This is not just a reshuffling of personnel, but a changing of the guard. The membership grew by almost half over the past year -- largely, if not entirely as a result of Freeman's efforts to make NBCC a more active and visible organization. He is going to be the very definition of a tough act to follow, but we'll just have to do the best we can.

UPDATE: My friend Laurie Muchnick writes up the evening over at Bloomberg.

March 6, 2008 8:52 PM | | Comments (2)

Josh Glenn of the Boston Globe's blog Brainiac has outlined a way to create your very own indie-rock CD cover via random generation. It works all too well.


Having no Photoshop skills at all, I am disqualified from participating. But this is a meme and it is hereby propagated. See also the followup.

March 3, 2008 12:19 PM | | Comments (0)

Last week's column about bookshelves generated quite a lot of comment, far and wide. But I'm particularly glad that Ralph Luker has used it as a chance to point out a page offering "30 of the Most Creative Bookshelves Designs" (sic).

The point of the column, to repeat, was that bookshelves are, in my experience anyway, strictly for storage and retrieval. If they do perform this function well (and the ones we built in a few years back have done so) then that is as much as they can do.

The "beautiful" designs offered by the good people at Freshome have thus given me a concrete sense of what it would be like to be punished for eternity.

March 3, 2008 9:48 AM | | Comments (2)

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